An analysis combining Joran Peterson’s examination of workaholics with an analysis of Tony Soprano’s lifestyle and style of management. There are quite some similarities.

In episode 6 of the 4th season of The Sopranos (entitled: “Everybody hurts”), Tony lends his friend Artie Buco $50k for an investement he wants to make. Artie then relends this money to Jean-Philippe (someone he hardly knows) who tells him he can make a big profit with it, and that he will pay Artie back in a couple of days.

The deal goes sour and Jean-Philippe isn’t able to pay the money back. Encouraged by Tony, Artie pumps himself up and goes out to confront his debtor and demand his money back, deluding himself into thinking he can resemble Tony and be intimidating enough to get his money back without Jean-Philippe talking back to him.

Unfortunately for Artie, things don’t go as planned. They end up fighting and Jean-Philippe throws Artie out. Feeling depressed because he can’t live up to the alpha-male image he is aspiring to, and now has a $50,000 debt to a hardened criminal psychopath. Artie takes lots of painkillers and drinks lots of alcohol, working himself into a suicide-attempt. Luckily (and with Tony’s help), an ambulance arrives on time.

When Tony goes to visit Artie in the hospital, Artie tells Tony he can have his restaurant to make up for his debt. Tony replies he doesn’t want the fucking restaurant.

Artie: “Then how am I gonna pay you back? $50,000. It’d take the rest of my life.”

Tony: “It’s $ 51,500, vig-wise, Artie… and technically, you already missed a payment. All right, look. We’ll wipe my tab at the restaurant.”

Artie: “Thank you. But, Tony, that’s what? $6,000? What about the rest of the money?”

Tony: “I’ll assume the guy’s debt. Collect the $50,000.”

Then Artie has an epiphany into the workings of Tony’s criminal mastermind.

The cobwebs are now removed…. You saw this whole thing, didn’t you? You knew exactly what was gonna happen. You can see 20 moves down the road. Please, I don’t blame you, I envy you. It’s like an instinct, like a hawk sees a little mouse moving around a cornfield, from a mile up. Somebody mentions $50,000 to bankroll a French digestif, and your mind goes through all the permutations at, like, internet speed and realizes: ‘Worst case scenario: I eat for free.’

Artie obviously has a point. In the (relatively free) free market that the Mafia is, you don’t just easily float to the top. It’s a very competitive market. Whoever ends up on top must have done plenty to get there. You don’t get there by just being lucky (tho’ being lucky obviously can’t hurt), you get there by working hard and thinking hard.

During a lecture, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson said the following about difficult men whose instinct activates them to ‘happily’ work 80 hours a week:

Once you make about $60,000 a year, additional income has zero impact on your quality of life. Zero! So why work 80 hours a week? Some men will do it. A handful of hyper-competitive men who are obsessed with hitting the pinnacle of the given dominance-hierarchy they are in, will happily work 80 hours a week and they’ll forgo everything else. Relationships, family, children.

Those men are often very difficult to live with because they are so obsessed with their career. It’s hard to have a relationship with them, and maybe they don’t have much of a relationship with their kids. But they’re damn good at what they do. And part of that is that they are smart and disciplined, and they’ll work non-stop all-the-time. It’s like an obsession, and that’s the sorta people who run things.

They are often disagreeable too. If you wanna manage people they are not gonna like you. And it is not an easy thing to not be liked. (…) Those positions are very stressfull, partly because of the inter-personal dynamics, and they are also incredibly competitive. (…)

In S05E04, after Carmela remarks Tony’s friends aren’t really his friends because they are afraid of him, Tony says the following:

I don’t give a shit if they’re scared or whatever, I’m running a fucking business, not a popularity contest.”

Thereby corroborating Peterson’s talk.

Peterson continues:

It’s not just a position of power, it’s a position of overwhelming responsibility. And if you make mistakes, you’re done! It’s not like you occupy a position of power and everyone does what they’re told all the time and your life is easy. Forget about that. People are on your case all the time, 100% of the time. (…)

Tony pretty much admits this when he tells Silvio the following:

“With all due respect: you got no fucking idea what it’s like to be no. 1. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fucking thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you are completely alone with it all. ” (S05E13)

Peterson:

I don’t know what people think? That these people are sitting in their offices with their feet up on their desks, smoking cigars and oppressing the world. That’s not how it works. These people work flat-out all the time.

Yes, Tony does indeed sometimes sit at his office smoking cigars with his feet up on his desk, but most of the times he’s talking, managing, damage-controlling, observing, steering, intruiging, and whatnot.

So, Jordan Peterson’s description pretty accurately describes Tony Sopranos’ managerial and private life: “hyper-competitive” – “will forgo everything else” – “difficult to live with” – “obsession” – “disagreeable” – “people are on his case all the time.”

What is so telling, is that Peterson, as well as Artie, describe the continuous awareness of everything happening around them that hyper-competitive men need to survive in the upper echelons of the businesses they are into. No awareness, no foreseeings. Be it banking or gangstering.

Tony Soprano has the instinct and obsession to ‘happily’ work 80 hours a week, flat out all-the-time. Thereby knowing enough to be able to calculate all the permutations of every decision he makes. To see 20 moves down every decision’s road.

Which is what makes Tony Soprano so good at being bad.

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